The Voice Inside

I have this voice inside of me. It’s only now beginning to speak. It’s only now able to ask for what I need. It is only now finding the words, reaching through the voices that have been with me since childhood.

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When we are babies, our needs are simple and our voice is simple. When we are hungry, we cry. When we are tired, we cry. When we wet ourselves, we cry. As we mature, we gain the ability to say more, ask for more, express more. At the same time, our needs evolve, and so does the voice that grows within.

I am forty-six years old. It has taken these years for this voice to develop. If I had lived to only thirty-five, I would not have felt the emergence of this voice. I would not have reached this developmental milestone, would never have known what this new stage feels like.

Some of have said that we have emotions of which we never speak simply because we don’t have the words to describe them. Perhaps we all are waiting for the voice inside to find a way to express what truly matters to us. It is not the voice of raw childishness (“I want” “pay attention to me”), nor is it the voice of rational adulthood (“you can’t” “you shouldn’t”), but rather a third voice that can only emerge when the time is right.voice

In the Bible, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” These are good words to live by, but it seems that Jesus glossed over an important point. How can you ask for something when you don’t know the words to frame the question? Without a voice with the ability to express the need, the searching question lingers inside you, unformed.

I have this voice inside of me. It’s development is something over which I’ve no control. It has simply appeared and is with me now. It’s as if I were to suddenly grow a third arm, the seeds of which have been with me since birth. What should I then do with this new arm? Should I have it cut off because it’s “not normal”? Or should I make the best use of it that I can?

This voice has been silent all these years. I can feel it as it stretches, reaching for the words, finding the way to express what I need and formulating the right questions. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the voice is the door. And the door is opening.

I will listen as the voice speaks. I will give it the room it needs to grow, hushing the other voices that are louder and have been with me longer. I will hear what it’s saying and trust that it knows of which it speaks. Maybe, just maybe, it will become a friend and companion for this second half of my life.

With all due respect and credit to Tori Amos for the phrase “silent all these years.”

Exercise and It’s Discontents

I crossed the finish line. My time wasn’t great, but I completed the 12 kilometer San Francisco Bay to Breakers race. In 1986, I was young, slim, and reasonably fit. From what people said, it sounded like fun, so I did it.

And how did I feel? Honestly, I felt neither exhausted nor euphoric. I felt nothing, really, except the pain in my knees the following day. It was a task I set out to do, and I completed it. I had no doubt that I would. And I had no expectation that I’d get the “runner’s high.”

Twio X | Parkour Leipzig
I’m still waiting for the day when exercise releases endorphins into my brain, giving me that euphoric feeling after a strenuous physical workout. When is it supposed to start happening?  Please tell me, because I really want to know. I’ve been waiting 4 decades for it.

Frankly, exercise leaves me with only one, simple feeling: tired. That seems normal, doesn’t it?  I’ve put out effort, I’ve burned all my calories. What else should I be expecting?

Euphoria, apparently.

That’s not to say I don’t have my exercise routines, because I do. I make a point of walking for 20 to 30 minutes each day, outdoors. And I lift weights on a regular basis.  If I’m being really good, I ride my bike once in a while. But these all have side benefits independent of any expected euphoria. Walking and biking get me outdoors. The weights allow me to avoid being embarrassingly unmanly when I have to lift something.

They are not, however, driven by any passion or expectation of euphoria. My exercise is a necessary evil, a means to an end, not an end itself. It is like sex in a passionless marriage, or the routine of a dull job. I do it because I’m supposed to, and I pretend to like it.

I could really use a dose of that alleged euphoria I hear so much about, though. It might make a difference.

My Facebook Experiment

A few years ago, I joined Facebook. Reluctantly.

The members of the band I was in at the time thought that social media was a good way to publicize our gigs. Everyone else in the band was already on Facebook, and I thought it would give the wrong impression if the bassist were the only one who was not. Up until that point, I didn’t see the value of it. Facebook

So I joined. But I had one condition.

I felt that if I had to be on Facebook–if it wasn’t my idea–then I would do it on my terms. And my terms were these: with a few exceptions, I would not initiate friending anyone; I would wait for them to friend me.

I thought it would look phony if, after having dismissed social media, I suddenly joined and started friending everyone I could think of. Also, and more importantly, I wanted to gauge the level of other’s interest in being connected to me. One way to do that was to wait and see.

And you know what? Very few people have friended me. The usual suspects have–I could have predicted with 95 percent confidence the small number of individuals who would friend me–but a surprising number have not. For example, there are some people with whom my wife is barely acquainted–but who I have known for years–who have friended her, but not me.

I have to wonder what that means. Does that say something about me, or about them?

I would like to blame Facebook’s automated “find your friends” feature, which mines your address book and friends everyone whom you may have, at some point in your life, listed an email address for.

But, more likely, it is that I have some fundamental misunderstanding of the rules of social media, because they are essentially the same rules that govern social interaction in general. It has something to do with how attractive you are, how talkative you are, and how comfortable you are with the medium. Things like intelligence and humor do not come across well on Facebook.

And if that feels like high school, it’s because…well…it is like high school. In a recent article in New York magazine, writer Jennifer Senior points out that research indicates that all our social skills–the ability to pick up on cues or fail to do so–we learn as adolescents. Quoting work by Gabriella Conti, she says ” ‘Adolescent popularity,…it’s about interpersonal relations. High school is when you learn how to master social relationships—and to understand how, basically, to play the game. ” Or don’t.”

Underlying all of this is being able to effectively interact with people and make yourself interesting to others. This is a skill that is, for the most part, independent of media, although Facebook does amplify the extent to which one has mastered it, thus requiring the refinement of one’s social toolkit to avoid being annoying.

I’ve heard people say how connected they feel on Facebook, but these are people who were already connected in the real world. For me, Facebook has not upped my feeling of connection. Rather, it is one more avenue of communication that I suck at. Most days, instead of updating my status with some inane personal detail, I find myself thinking, “Why bother?” and “Who cares?”

The bottom line is that social media is little different from any other social situation. Those who understand the rules are rewarded, and those for whom the rules remain mysterious are marginalized or even penalized. I know of a number of people who’ve tried Facebook but have since deactivated their accounts. “It just didn’t work for me,” one guy told me.

I continue to use Facebook on occasion. Often I go more than a week without even logging in. Sometimes I wonder why I use it at all.

The Enigma of Hair

For nearly 15 years, I hated my hair.

I know what you’re thinking–it’s a long time to be in conflict over something about which one can do little. A few years back, I reached a sort of truce with my hair and began to accept it for what it was. But it is an uneasy truce, one that threatens to erupt into conflict again at any moment.

So you can imagine my surprise when a woman I’d never met before stopped me recently to tell me I have “gorgeous hair.” I was flattered. Furthermore, it made me reassess my feelings about my hair.

Me at 4 years old.

Me at 4 years old.

When I was born, I had straight, blond hair. Somewhere around 8 or 9 years old, however, it began to darken and curl. Having lived with one kind of hair up to that point, I was unprepared for this change.

Curly hair does not run in my family. Both of my parents have essentially straight hair. Of my two sisters, one had straight-as-straight-can-be hair, and the other has what I would call wavy hair. My younger brother has wavy hair too. Mine is undeniably curly.

My mother tried to blame the change on me, that I was not taking care of my hair properly and so causing it to curl. In hindsight, I see how ridiculous this is, but at the time, I listened to my mother. So I washed it excessively, combed it excessively, and tried different hair cuts, all in an attempt to bring back the flaxen hair I had. It was no use.

Me at 11 years old (with orthodontics).

Me at 11 years old (with orthodontics).

I was at a loss for how to care for my new hair, and in fact was doing more damage than if I’d just accepted it and let it be. This being the late 70’s, what I wanted was hair like David Cassidy–long, rich, flowing hair. I tried to grow mine longer, but it went cockeyed, poofed, and frizzed. I looked more like Gabe Kaplan, and I wasn’t amused.

Hair is a strange thing, if you think about it. Every other mammal on the planet is either completely covered in hair or is completely naked. People, on the other hand, have this strange patch on the tops of our heads. It doesn’t seem to serve any functional purpose, so we create meaning for it. Native American men grow their hair long as a symbol of their strength and cultural identity. Sikh men grow long hair as a symbol of piety. Buddhist monks shave theirs off, also to show piety.

Me at 15 years old, with frizz in full swing.

Me at 15 years old, with frizz in full swing.

It’s hard for an individual to be accepting of what one’s been given when culturally we don’t seem to know what to do with our hair.

To this day, I normally don’t think of my hair as an asset.  So to have a complete stranger tell me my hair is gorgeous came as a bit of a shock.

“Really?” I said.

“It’s like Richard Gere hair,” she said, smiling.

Wow. Who knew?

All of Life is a Performance

All of life is a performance.

When you get up in the morning, you enter the stage and you don’t exit the stage until you go to bed at night. All day long, you are in front of the audience, both your admirers and critics. And just to keep things interesting, it is always improvisation. There is no director, no stage manager, no script. We each must seek our motivations and speak in character.mic3

As with all performance, you will have some “on” days and you will have some days when you are really off, days when you’ll want to hide backstage and not re-emerge until the next show. You will sustain injury and heartbreak. You will experience an entire change of cast. But the show must go on.

If you act out of character, or refuse to appear, you may be boo’d or deserted by your fans. Critics will wonder aloud what happened to your mojo.

When the performance is over, when the show finally closes, your obituary is your review. The friends and the critics will finally weigh in on what they thought of you. Sadly, you will not get to read these reviews. In fact, while the performance is running, you may never know for sure what anybody thinks. But you must perform anyway.

Because all of life is a performance.

[With a tip of the hat to Erving Goffman. I’ve not read The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and can only say that this piece was born of my own experience. But I did read Asylums in college and was deeply impressed.]